Abortion reform, Covid-19 testing for teachers and fossil fuel divestment – UK Green news round up issue 53
Greens call for abortion law reform
With the coronavirus crisis gripping the country, healthcare has been at the top of the country’s agenda for some time. And this week, two prominent Greens have raised the issue of abortion rights in the current context.
Green member of the House of Lords Natalie Bennett tabled an amendment to England and Wales’ abortion laws which would have allowed for both the first and second pill to be taken at home. This would have changed the existing legal framework which requires the first pill to be taken at a clinic. The amendment was not accepted by the government.
In an article for Left Foot Forward, Bennett argued that this change would both improve access to abortions, as well protecting doctors from potential coronavirus exposure.
under British abortion law, the first pill can only be taken at an “approved place”, requiring travel – for significant numbers of women considerable distance of travel. This distance only increases as medical professionals have to self-isolate and clinics (temporarily) close.
Under the coronavirus lockdown, that’s clearly an issue, both of access, with public transport curtailed, but also of safety.
She continued, arguing that the amendment:
would have ensured women can access timely medical care, save doctors’ time, save risk to medical staff, patients, and all of us.
Bennett wasn’t the only Green to raise the issue of abortion rights in the context of coronavirus this week.
Green Party in Northern Ireland leader Clare Bailey responded to the newly issued abortion regulations for the North of Ireland. Bailey said:
The plight of women requiring access to abortion during this pandemic can not be ignored.We would call on the Health Minister to put telemedicine in place whereby the required medication can be posted to a home address after an initial telephone consultation.This would reduce the impact on the NHS and abide by social distancing protocol and current travel restrictions.
Caroline Lucas welcomes Parliamentary Pension Fund’s investment shift, but calls for it to go further
This week saw the news that Parliament’s pension fund has made record investments in the renewable energy sector. The fund has also cut some of its investments in the fossil fuel industry.
Despite this, the pension fund has not fully cut its ties with the industry, maintaining investments in companies including BP.
Green MP Caroline Lucas welcomed the shift in the fund’s investments, but called on it to go much further. According to the Guardian, Lucas said:
Investing in clean energy is clearly the right thing to do, financially and for the future of our planet, so I’m glad the Parliamentary Pension Fund is doing this. But it has to also stop investing in Shell and BP,” she said.
These investments cannot be justified on ethical, environmental or financial grounds, and they undermine MPs’ credibility in addressing the climate emergency. They have to stop.
These sentiments were echoed by Divest Parliament campaigner Tytus Murphy:
It is encouraging that the trustees of the MPs Pension Fund are finally starting to move investments away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, and we will keep working with MPs from across the political spectrum to ensure the fund commits to completely eliminating its fossil fuel investments before COP26.
The changes to the Parliamentary Pension Fund’s investments are one of the latest developments in the global Fossil Free campaign. In 2019, the campaign celebrated 11 trillion dollars being taken out of the fossil fuel industry. And in January 2020, the proportion of UK universities that had divested from fossil fuels reached 50%.
Green Party of England and Wales launches petition to have all teachers tested for Covid-19
Each day brings new emergency government measures aimed at responding to coronavirus. But the Green Party of England and Wales this week launched a campaign to roll out a new measure – testing all teachers for Covid-19 to help stop the spread of the disease.
The initiative was kicked off with a petition, which states:
Teachers along with all other school staff and all other key workers must be tested for Covid-19 as a priority, not just for their own protection and the safety of their families, but to help tackle the spread of Covid-19.
Speaking on the launch, Green Party of England and Wales education spokesperson Vix Lowthion said:
It was right to close schools to the general public, and it was also right to keep them open for the children of key workers. The logical and compassionate next step is to ensure all teachers and school staff are prioritised for coronavirus testing.
Staff still going to school are on the frontline of this crisis and deserve protection. They need to be tested, not just for their own safety, but also to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Amelia Womack calls for gender analysis of the coronavirus pandemic
There needs to be a “rapid gender analysis” of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s according to Green Party of England and Wales deputy leader Amelia Womack.
Writing in Green World this week, Womack highlighted how the coronavirus crisis will disproportionately impact upon women. In the article, she argued:
Women will be on the front line of this pandemic as they hold many of the roles in care, health and retail.
This is a pandemic where women are increasingly exposed to the virus at work, and at risk of abuse at home.
Womack’s writing echoes the call from women’s rights organisation the Fawcett Society, which issued a statement declaring:
Many women are on the frontline, delivering essential services, usually the lowest paid or in insecure work. Many women will be trapped in their homes, self-isolating with an abusive partner. It’s women who are also more likely to care for older or disabled relatives and neighbours.
Yet hundreds of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being spent without considering the specific challenges women are facing. Women and girls in all their diversity must be seen, have their voices heard and their needs met.
John Finnie demands justice for prison staff
Reports of unscrupulous employers exploiting the coronavirus crisis are growing by the day. And this week, Green MSP John Finnie has called out outsourcing giants Serco and Sodexo for dodgy working practices.
Finnie was responding to allegations from trade unions that the companies have refused to pay cleaners who are unable to work during the crisis due to sickness or childcare commitments. He also criticised the practice of outsourcing and privatisation within the criminal justice system.
I have long been critical of private companies profiting from our criminal justice system. At this time of unprecedented national crisis it is vital that the Scottish Government ensures that these companies are forced to adhere to fair work practices.
Cleaners throughout our public services, and particularly in enclosed environments like prisons play a vital role in keeping these services running. The Scottish Government must ensure that these workers, who have been historically undervalued, are supported and protected at this time of crisis.
Rachel Woods calls for urgent support for homeless people
One demographic especially vulnerable during the coronavirus crisis is homeless people. And this week Green MLA Rachel Woods demanded that the Northern Ireland Executive provide urgent support for homeless people during the crisis.
Woods called for the Executive to provide emergency accommodation for homeless people in the North of Ireland. She said:
It’s time for action during this unprecedented situation. I want to see the Executive move to make hotels and B&Bs available as safe temporary accommodation for people who are homeless and provide resourced, wrap-around support packages for those who need it.There is great concern about people who are rough sleepers across Belfast and other Northern Irish towns and cities. These people cannot self-isolate if showing symptoms of Covid-19 and often have poor health.